Harry Potter and the Mother Who Grew Up in the Church in the ’90s.

Thirteen months ago, my children and I embarked upon a literary journey. I was encouraged by some and strongly warned by others, but with careful consideration and willing hearts, in June of 2020 we stepped onto Platform 9 ¾ with curiosity in hand, and boarded the express train bound for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I can still remember when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone first made its way controversially into the bookstores of the United States. I was a college student and everywhere I turned, I heard the cries of woe from my circle of influence. The Christian community at large was loathe to accept a book that we were told embraced and encouraged witchcraft, that cheered on and delighted in blatant acts of sorcery, and that surely would set its readers, particularly children and young adults, on a slippery slope bound straight for the depths of hell by way of the occult.

This is not an exaggeration, as you may be old enough to recall. Pastors and prominent leaders throughout the American Church were terrified of the effects that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone would have on impressionable young minds. Families would be torn apart while children were quickly swept away from God and into the clutches of dark magic. The End Times would be ushered in with Harry Potter himself at the helm as the Antichrist.  With all the fear and drama surrounding this story, there was only one thing for a young 20-something-year-old college sophomore like me to do. I borrowed a copy from the library and read it. 

Armed with my helmet of salvation and my breastplate of righteousness, my sword of the Spirit at the ready, I opened the first pages of the book, steadied against the powers of Satan that were bound between the haunting covers of wicked British middle-grade literature.  But as I journeyed my way through each chapter, I discovered, to my utter astonishment, that I was finding the story not to be vile and corrupt, but actually quite delightful. It was funny. Clever, even. The characters were endearing. The plot was captivating. I kept my armor on so as not to be caught off guard, but by the end of the book, I was enraptured.

Nearly twenty-five years passed from the time I read that first book. I expected I would read the rest of the series, but life happened and, for a multitude of unimportant reasons, I lost interest in my pursuit of the Harry Potter hype. I did, however, know dozens, if not hundreds of people who read the entire series, and I duly noted the fact that none of them ever joined the occult or became Wiccan. The Church still complained now and then, but not nearly as loudly, and I even came to notice that quite a number of Christian friends and trusted heroes of mine applauded the books. 

This is why I decided last summer to embark on the Harry Potter adventure with my own children, this time not through the lens of a naive college student, but with the wisdom of a critically-thinking mother. With the exception of The Hobbit, we read only those books during our read-aloud time for the next thirteen months. (Eventually I gave up reading them myself and passed the torch to Jim Dale’s audio version – highly recommended, by the way.) Jeremy, who had already read the first five books on his own years ago, caught up with us so that we could finish the last few chapters of the series together as a family. This past Saturday morning we sat in the living room, hanging on to the last details of the final scenes, nearly breathless as the last pieces of the puzzle fell into place. It was a family moment I won’t soon forget. 

When I choose books for my family to read, I always look for themes of goodness, truth, and beauty. I look for classic tales of good vs evil, characters devoted to one another in friendship and loyalty, and love prevailing over hate, or at the very least, the truth of love’s power prevailing in the heart of the story’s main theme. As writer N.D. Wilson would say, I want to “feed them narratives that love the lovely and honor the honorable.” Did I find these truths in Harry Potter? I did; in fact, I found them to be far more prevalent than I had ever anticipated. 

I recognize that I’m late to the game in terms of offering a review of Harry Potter. But I do still know a number of people who never read the books when they were younger (many are my age and, like me, thought they were too old to be reading “kids’ books” when they first came out), but now they have children who are old enough to begin reading them, and they’re concerned. Many heard the same warnings and still have the same trepidation that I did when I was a young college student. I wanted to take the time to offer up my take-aways from this story for those of you who find yourself in my place in life and unsure of how to navigate the world of Harry Potter with your family.

(Mild thematic spoilers ahead.)

The plot began to weave a familiar story of good vs. evil, but the evil I had been warned about wasn’t what I had expected. The characters, other than the fact that they had the ability to perform magic, were no different than the characters I remembered from those that had been  given places of honor in the Christian faith: Lucy, Susan, Peter, Edmund, Frodo, Sam, even Gandalf in a sense. The evil was there, to be sure. But it was identifiable evil, not cloaked in righteousness so as to cause young minds to stray from the knowledge of truth. It was White Witch evil. Sauron evil. Maleficent evil. And it was clear from the very beginning that such darkness must hold no place of honor. The prophet Isaiah warns us in scripture, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness…” (Isaiah 5:20). In the Harry Potter series, evil is clearly named and is clothed in deceit, hatred, and malice. There is nothing attractive about it.

More than that, though, Harry Potter is a coming-of-age story of friendship that is exceedingly loyal and of courage and bravery that kids can cling to when facing their own times of trial and adversity. Within the page of this story, the reader will quickly come to recognize the power of heroism in the hearts of the unlikeliest heroes; unconditional love in the most unsuspecting places; sacrificial love in its purest form, and the harsh truth that even those we admire the most are, at best, flawed and fallen people in need of forgiveness. While this is not a story rooted in scripture, the truth of God’s word is evident throughout its pages:

There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. Proverbs 6:16-19

The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps. Proverbs 13:15.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. Proverbs 17:17

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:26

Sometimes these truths were displayed subtly, as in quick decisions made by the characters. Other times, they were displayed as overtly as tombstone epitaphs. But throughout each book, Harry, Ron, Hermione and others had tough decisions to make: choices of right vs wrong, selfishness vs. sacrifice, safety vs. courage, preservation of dignity vs. humility, and choosing truth from lies. They didn’t always make the right decisions, but each time the author reminded her readers that while her characters were free to make their own decisions, they were not free from the consequences of those decisions. 

Is this story perfect? No. Yes, there’s witchcraft and wizardry, and yes, the Bible warns us about real satanic sorcery. But while it’s true that the good guys don’t call upon the power of God to save them from the enemy, neither do the bad guys call upon the power of Satan to do their bidding. The world of Hogwarts magic is its own world, a power that one is born with, not one that can be conjured from the depths of hell. Readers aren’t taught how to perform spells (but one could argue that they are taught a little Latin and Greek etymology). To my knowledge, no muggle (that’s us) has ever learned to apparate or been able to turn the kitchen lights on by themselves, no matter how loudly or confidently they shout, “Lumos!” At its heart, Harry Potter is nothing more than a fairy tale, and the magic created therein is as benign and powerless within the confines of reality as opening the motion-sensored doors at Target by using the Force.

As Christians, we don’t have to demonize all magic. The Wizard of Oz, practically every Disney movie, and the darlings of Christian novels, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, all contain magic, witches and/or wizards. Scripture certainly warns us about the evils of those who perform dark magic and, as I mentioned earlier, calling that which is evil good. Harry Potter does an impressive job in its own right of warning of the dangers of dark magic, and students at Hogwarts are taught the very real perils of aligning oneself with it and the tragic consequences it brings. But if we make the blanket statement that all magic is evil because the Bible says so, then we must be willing to collectively throw Professor McGonagall, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Mary Poppins out with the bathwater. Instead, we must be critical thinkers and acknowledge that there is indeed a line to draw when it comes to magic, but we also don’t want to miss out on that which is good, true, and lovely because we’re too focused on the trees to see the beauty of the forest. 

One of my favorite quotes from G.K. Chesterton says, “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.” We live in a world where dragons do exist, in the figurative sense, anyway. As parents, it’s important that we equip our children to face a world of darkness, where true evil does lurk in the shadows. I read my children stories of scripture to remind them that Jesus has won the victory over Satan once and for all and that they need not be afraid. That they can stand and defeat Goliath because the battle isn’t really theirs to fight, but it’s the Lord’s. In a similar sense, a worthy fairy tale equips children with stories of characters, most of whom are their age, who display courage, valor, adversity, strength of character, loyalty, self-sacrifice, and trustworthiness, and who remind us with each new tale that they can stand boldly in the face of darkness because evil can and has been overcome. Harry Potter reminds us over and over again that, not only can dragons be killed, but also that there is no power greater than true and abiding love, which always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Always.

‘Tis the Season to Lament

Is it okay to acknowledge that sometimes a spirit of thankfulness is difficult? 
Is it okay to recognize that many, if not most of us are in a season of deep lamenting right now, rather than a season of gratitude? Or perhaps “in addition to” is better said.

Our lives are in limbo.
Our country is in limbo.
While beauty surrounds us, disappointment seems to continuously lurk in the shadows, striking at will.
Where the sick people used to be resigned to those on the news, now they’re our friends and family members.
We’re tired of watching the pain expressed on our children’s faces as we tell them (again), “No. We can’t. It’s been canceled.”
We seem to be continuously bracing ourselves for the next wave of bad news.

Yesterday I went for a walk. In my ears, the melodies streaming from the music box; stories reminding me of the Lord’s goodness. 
The crisp, cold air burned my lungs. It felt familiar and good, like an old friend whose embrace I hadn’t felt in months.
The early morning sun sprawled my long shadow across the grass. It made me feel taller. I pushed my shoulders back.
The crunch of the leaves underneath my feet, the sounds of birds flirting with each other, the hope of a new day lying open before me…all these things filled my heart with the knowledge of the goodness of God.

Yet, as I walked, surrounded by loveliness and goodness and truth, I realized just how sad I was.
I realized that, while my heart held fast to gratitude for a bounty of blessings, my soul was resting in a season of grief. Not depression, but lamenting.

And I felt, strangely, as though that was okay.

“Wait, Lord,” I asked. “Aren’t I supposed to shrug off this sadness? Aren’t I supposed to buck up and put on a happy face? ’Tis the season of thanksgiving, after all. I’m supposed to have an “attitude of gratitude.” I can’t be content being sad. Can I?”

Then He answered me. From the melody of the music box, as if on cue, came His gentle reminder that it’s okay if I’m not always okay.

Do you remember how Mary was grieving?
How you wept and she fell at your feet?
Well, if it’s true that you know what I’m feeling,
Could it be that you’re weeping with me?

Unexpected tears welled up in my eyes.
Oh, if only I had worn sunglasses.
The words continued.

Well, it’s so hard to know what you’re doing,
So why won’t you tell it all plain?
But you said you’d come back on the third day,
And Peter missed it again and again.
So maybe the answer surrounds us,
But we don’t have eyes to see
That you’re always good, always good.
This heartache is moving me closer than joy ever could.
And you’re always good.

Perhaps you’re like me. Perhaps in this season of Thanksgiving, while acknowledging all there is to be thankful for, deep down your heart is grieving. 

We’ve all experienced loss this year. 
Loss of expectations.
Loss of control.
Loss of fellowship.
Loss of the ability to move freely about our lives.
Loss of the ability to wrap our arms around the necks of those we love so dearly.
Loss of normalcy.

I think I’m supposed to tell you today that it’s good to grieve. 
We can still be thankful, but there’s nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to acknowledge our sadness.
It’s alright to shake our fists at the sky.
It’s necessary to confess our weariness.
It’s okay to walk down the street with tears in our eyes and say, “Lord, what are you doing? How much longer? I don’t understand this.”
Because more often than not, sorrow and heartache are the things that move us closer to the heart of God.
No one knows this more than those who have felt deep despair. 

To be aware that the Lord weeps with us in our pain is one of the most joyful truths we can know.

If you’re sad today, know you’re not alone.
The Lord is by your side.
He doesn’t need you to put on a happy face.
He simply asks that you rest in Him.

My God, my God, be near me.
There’s nowhere else go.
And Lord, if you can hear me,
Please help your child to know
That you’re always good, always good.
As we try to believe what is not meant to be understood,
Will you help us to trust your intentions for us are still good?
‘Cause you laid down your life and you suffered like I never could.
And you’re always good, always good, you’re always good.
(Andrew Peterson)

Always Good

There is a heartbreaking story of a man named Nathan Johnson, a Christian musician whose wife unexpectedly died last year just hours after the birth of their firstborn child.  The story goes that as he went into the room to see her body before they took it away, he cried out in agony, “Always good! Always good! God is always good.”

Reflecting on the tragedies I’ve experienced in my life, I realize that in order to be able to utter  these words in the midst of such pain, one has to have an immeasurably intimate relationship with the Father.  One has to grasp with deep conviction that death is not the result of God’s punishment, His sense of apathy, or necessarily even His plan.  Such conviction is profound, and dare I say, extraordinary.

Death is generally incomprehensible to us.  We rarely expect its coming.  And when it does come, especially if it’s borne out of tragedy, we often feel the need to blame someone.  It’s human nature.  Unfortunately for Him, our all-knowing, all-powerful God tends to be the most obvious scapegoat.  I’ve done it.  I know from past history that I’m good at praising the God who gives, but I’m more inclined to curse at the God who takes away.  In times of deep sorrow I’ve retreated from the One who can bring me comfort, rather than run toward Him.

Singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson wrote a song about the introductory story, as his sons were among the ones who witnessed Johnson’s lament for his wife.  In it he says,

My God, my God, be near me.
There’s nowhere else to go.
And Lord, if you can hear me,
Please help your child to know
That you’re always good, always good.

This song and this story have been heavy on my heart this past week.  My daughter’s former classmate, just nine years old, was diagnosed with a terminal illness and has maybe a year to live.  As I have been processing this news and praying for this precious boy and his family, I find myself repeatedly saying those words in my mind – “There’s nowhere else to go.  You’re always good.  There’s nowhere else to go.  Please help me to trust that You’re always good, because there’s nowhere else to go.”  I’m praying these words not only on behalf of my own heart, but also for this little boy’s parents.  Because today I have the strength to.  Because it’s not my child who’s dying.

What would I say, though, if it were my child? Or my husband?  Is my relationship with my God built on so firm a foundation that if I were in the depths of such unspeakable pain, I could cry out, “You’re always good”?  I honestly don’t know.  But I know that I am vowing now to set my heart toward that goal.  It requires the same faith that Job had, to be able to say, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  It requires the same faith that Abraham had, to be able to lay his only son on a sacrificial altar before the Lord and trust Him beyond what his eyes could see.  I believe it requires setting our hearts on fully trusting in His goodness long before we are in a position to have to prove it.

What would I say, though, if it were my child? Or my husband?  Is my relationship with my God built on so firm a foundation that if I were in the depths of such unspeakable pain, I could cry out, “You’re always good!”?  I honestly don’t know.

The best news of all, though, is this: regardless of how we react to unspeakable pain, we serve a God who is gentle, kind, and understanding.  Even when we come at Him with our worst, He responds to our grief, however it may look, as only a loving Father would.  He doesn’t punish our emotional attacks.  He lets us cry, lets us scream, lets us wave our fists in the air, lets us ask the hard questions, lets us even curse at Him.  He knows how dark this world can be, and He sympathizes with our pain.  But He always, always welcomes us back into His loving arms with grace and tenderness when we’re ready.  He always longs to draw near to us and wipe away our tears, or even weep with us.  He is always there to comfort us and restore our hearts back to a place of peace once more.  He always brings forth beauty from the ashes.  Because He is always good.

I Don’t Want to Read That Book

I mentioned a few months ago on my personal Facebook page that I was ready to introduce Aiden to the first book in Andrew Peterson‘s Wingfeather Saga, entitled On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.  As it is in my top three book series of all time (really, my top two), I had anxiously waited years for this read-aloud experience and was so excited when it became apparent to me that he was ready.  What I had not anticipated was his reaction to what I felt was an epic milestone:

Image result for on the edge of the dark sea of darkness

”I don’t want to read that book,” he remarked dismissively.
“What??  Why not?!?” I asked, perplexed.
He offered up his most well-thought-out 10-year-old answer: “I just don’t.”

After several days of letting the book linger conspicuously on the coffee table, I tried again.

“I think you’ll really love this book, Aiden.”
“Okay son, you HAVE to give me a reason.”
“I just don’t want to read about a dark sea of darkness.  It sounds scary.”
“Ahhhh, well, why didn’t you say so?!  You see, it’s not really about the Dark Sea.  It’s about the incredible adventure that happens on the EDGE of the dark sea.  Actually, I think it’s a pretty clever and funny title. How about you let me read you the first two chapters, and if you don’t like it after that, we’ll put it away for a while.”
{Deep sigh} “Fine.”

After the first two chapters, he had no choice but to maintain his skepticism.  He had worked so hard to build up his disdain born out of complete and total ignorance that he couldn’t drop the act too soon.  He was like Fred Savage’s character in The Princess Bride: “I guess you can read another chapter. If you want to.” Insert eye roll.

But just as I suspected, eye rolls quickly turned to eyes entranced.  The mouth that had been complaining just days before turned into the mouth gaping open, listening in complete silence.  It wasn’t long until both he and his little sister, (who wasn’t about to miss out on something that her mama had played up so dramatically), were absolutely enraptured by the story of the three Igiby children and the unusual village in which they lived.  When they weren’t rolling on the floor with laughter they were sitting close to me on the couch, every muscle in their bodies tense with anxious anticipation of what would happen next. And how I wish I could have captured the looks on their faces whenever Peet the Sock Man would make his entrance!  It was better than Christmas morning.

The other day the same boy who just weeks ago refused to like this book said to me, “Hey Mama, I know what we should do this summer.  We should take turns between reading the rest of The Wingfeather Saga and the rest of The Chronicles of Narnia” (of which we’re currently reading book four.  In the order in which they were written. The way God intended them to be read). The fact that my 10-year-old boy wants to spend his summer hanging out with his mom, reading together her two very favorite book series…well…could it make me any happier?  

I’ll give you a hint.  No.

I don’t know how many more years I have left of my son delighting in spending time with me during the summer months.  In six years he’ll be driving, and I’m wise enough now to know that six kid years equates to about ten minutes in parent years.  I have made this read-aloud time such a priority in our family life, and to see it reaping a harvest of reward is an incredible joy for me, and I just had to share it with someone.  

Parents who read aloud to your children every day, don’t stop when they are old enough to read for themselves.  Take the journey to Aerwiar and Narnia and Middle Earth with them. Share in the tragedy and triumph of Meg Murry, Mary Lenox, Frodo Baggins, and Charlie Bucket.  It will pay off dividends, both academically and relationally. I promise. Just be sure to steer clear of toothy cows along the way.

Goodbye to a House That Wasn’t Ours. But it Was.

In west Knoxville there sits a beautiful house high up on a steep hill.  From the back yard you can see the mountains sprawled out in the distance.  From the front yard you can see, through the window of your imagination, the most epic Slip-and-Slide just waiting to happen.  The house belongs to our dear friend Tracy and her boys.  Well, it did.  Today they’re moving out, and it feels a little bit like we’re moving with them.  Actually, it feels like a whole lot of us are moving.  Allow me to explain.

Tracy and her husband Kenny bought this house 11 or 12 years ago.  Jeremy and I got to be the first ones to see it with them; he was their realtor (a brief career he held in what seems like a former life).  I didn’t care much for it at the time; I thought it was too big.  I was wrong.  You see, Kenny (who passed away nearly three years ago) and Tracy together had a unique gift of hospitality, the likes of which I’ve never known elsewhere, so they needed something that would accommodate their vision.  And did it ever.  This house needed to be big enough to be a homecoming to three boys and their wives and children someday.  Big enough for teenagers and all of their friends, as well as for missionaries home on furlough.  Big enough for dinner guests and Fourth of July gatherings and Christmas parties and graduation celebrations.  Big enough to host their entire church family for Super Bowl parties and New Year’s Eve parties.  And little did we know at the time that it needed to be big enough for hundreds of people to gather and grieve together when Kenny died, and then a few months later, their youngest son Brown also.  This house indeed had a unique purpose, one it fulfilled so beautifully.

I have my own delightful family memories in this house.  My firstborn’s baby shower was held there, as were many of my friends’.  I remember being invited over for dinner when Jeremy was out of town and Kenny telling Aiden, who was a toddler at the time, that he could have all the dinner rolls he wanted and didn’t have to eat his green beans, even though I had just told him otherwise.  I remember narrowly dodging the explosion of a 4th of July firecracker lighting gone very wrong.  I remember Kenny and I challenging each other to Name That Tune and being mortified that someone actually could beat me.  I remember basketball games, children on the swing set, summer barbecues, Bible studies, board games, long conversations, gift exchanges, and a whole lot of hamburgers.  I remember laughing til I cried and I remember inconsolable weeping.  I remember last goodbyes.

The house that my friends, that we, are saying goodbye to today isn’t just a house to us.  For more than a decade it has been a living parable – a shining (house) on a hill where we have seen the love and hospitality of the Kingdom of God lived out by the people who dwelt within its walls.  It was full of fun and laughter, yes.  But it was also a place of refuge, a place of comfort, a place where there was room for everyone at the table.  As my friends say goodbye to their home today, dozens…no, I dare say hundreds of people will be saying goodbye as well, to a home that holds so many cherished memories and that reflected the light of the coming Kingdom to everyone who entered.

The Gospel According to Natalie

An old Facebook story, but one of my favorites:

Natalie is my independent soul. At age three, she’s big on doing things herself. Lately, her biggest obstacle to overcome is opening packages of string cheese. As she pulls it out of the fridge I ask her, for the sixty-seventh time, if she would like me to help her with it.

“No,” she says.  “I can do it.”

She can’t do it.  As proven by yesterday.  And the day before that.  But she’s determined.  So she tries it again.

She wrestles with the package, knowing that, if she just tries a little harder, or pulls it this way instead of that way, she’ll succeed in her endeavor. She tries, just as every day before, to be strong enough, independent enough, to prove to the world that she doesn’t need anybody. She can do it herself.

Eventually, after much tiresome struggle, she realizes.  She can’t do it, not by her own will.  No matter how independent she is, her strength is not sufficient.  She needs help.  So she comes to me.

“Mom, will you open dis for me?”

Essentially, she says, “Help! I’m in need! Who will save me from this wretched package of cellophane so that I may eat and be filled?” And I respond, not with shouts of “I told you you couldn’t do it! I told you you were too weak!” I don’t tell her she’s not good enough. Or strong enough. I don’t tell her to try harder. Instead, I quietly open the package for her and say, “Here you go, my love.” She is saved from the evils of the child-proof processed food container! In essence, I rescue her from what she’s incapable of doing on her own. And I do it, not with guilt or put-downs, but with grace and love. And I will do it again tomorrow. Because she is my child, and I love her more than anything in this world.

In other words, it’s the Gospel.  According to Natalie.

The Family Table

This is my dining room table. We bought it ten years ago after a painstaking search for just the right one. “We need a table that seats ten,” we would say to the salespeople. Most places either didn’t have a table that big or it was way too formal for our taste. One salesman even went so far as to tell us that our dining room (which he had never seen before) wouldn’t hold a table that big.

Then we found this solid wood beauty at an unfinished furniture store in west Knoxville and knew it was the perfect table for us. You see, Jeremy and I don’t have just a ton of hobbies in common, but one thing that truly floats both our boats is hospitality. Never fancy or flashy, but we love having people in our homes and breaking bread together. It’s become a priority for us over the years to carve out time in our lives for the lost art of hospitality.

My hope when I bought this table would be for it to have stories to tell. This table has heard tales of laughter and tears, has probably heard a few swear words, has kept whispered secrets, and has been a place where we’ve reminisced cherished memories.

It’s held the spread of Thanksgiving dinners and all of my children’s birthday cakes and family game nights and extensive art projects. Last night it welcomed jungle friends; missionaries home on furlough for the first time in two years. We sat around this table and talked for hours about the beauty and tragedies of life, and I was reminded once again of how the purpose of this table is being used to bring life into our home.

Furniture is just a thing; a “treasure on earth,” if you will. But the life that has happened around this table with the people who have graced its side is part of the treasure we are storing in Heaven. I think about that every time I look upon this table that is never too big, and often not big enough. I think about the faces; your faces. And I give thanks and rejoice.

On Wrestling: An Open Letter to My Son

Dear Aiden,

Do you know what one of my favorite things to watch you do is?  I love to watch you wrestle with your Daddy.  I love how the two of you like to try to beat each other to a pulp and laugh together as you’re doing so.  I love how, even though he’s nearly twice your height and three times your weight, you come at him as though you truly believe you can conquer him.  And what’s funny is that the more he proves to you that he is the mightier opponent, the more you seem to enjoy it.  But sometimes, in his mercy, he offers you the illusion that you have the upper hand.  It’s what gives you the adrenaline to keep coming back for more, I think.

I get it.  

Okay, I don’t.

This male bonding experience that you two share – it’s odd to me.  We girls don’t typically do such barbaric things.  We would much rather bond over tea and cookies and Jane Austen movies.  But even though I don’t understand your masculine inclination to fight each other like wild savages, I do understand the value of such behavior.  The joy you both seem to share when embracing each other in headlocks and trying to throw each other to the ground seems to create a strange connection that only men and boys can truly comprehend.  It’s a special love language you share; and even though it looks as though it’s causing you both great pain, I can see in your faces that it’s joining your hearts together in some secret manly ritual of love and intimacy.

Last night I was watching you wrestle with the most important man in your life – you in your robot pajamas and him with the smell of an evening brushfire ruminating from his thermal shirt and blue jeans.  I hated to bring it to an end, but bedtime was beckoning, ruining your fun as it does every evening.

This morning as I sat down with a cup of coffee for a few minutes of uninterrupted reading before the day called me to action, I read something that brought to mind the story of Jacob in the Bible, and it made me think of you.  Jacob was a man whose life wasn’t going the way he had hoped because of some bad decisions he had made.  He had cheated his brother out of his birthright and ran away from home.  His relationship with his father-in-law was built on dishonesty and deceit.  The women in his life were chock full of drama.  His life was a mess.  Eventually God told him to return home to his family, where the brother he had wronged so many years earlier still lived.

On his return journey he found himself awake in the middle of the night, alone with his fears, not knowing whether his brother would forgive him or try to kill him.  Out of nowhere he came face-to-face with the God of the universe.  With Jacob’s heart burdened by the series of unfortunate events in his life, God came to him – not to talk, not to lecture, not to criticize – but to wrestle.  Man to man.  All night they scuffled like wolves until Jacob eventually had the upper hand.  When daybreak arrived the Lord asked Jacob to let him go.  “Not until you bless me,” Jacob demanded.  The scriptures don’t offer us any insight into God’s body language in this scene, but I imagine He smiled a little at Jacob’s audacity.  It was this request that changed history as we know it.  It was here where God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which is thought to mean “he struggles with God,” and Jacob’s life was forever transformed.

God could have chosen numerous ways to communicate to Jacob in this scenario.  Why do you think He wrestled with him?  Was it because He was angry with Jacob? I don’t think so.  Was it because He wanted to hurt him?  Not exactly.  Did Jacob have the upper hand in the match because he was stronger than God?  No one’s stronger than God.  Did God know that Jacob was going to ask for a blessing?  God knows everything.  Was it part of His plan all along?  Undoubtedly.  I don’t know exactly why God chose a wrestling match to touch Jacob’s heart, but I do know that it was exactly what Jacob needed, and God showed Himself faithful to this scared, angry man in the midst of a tumultuous time in his young life.

Aiden, the point I want to make to you is this: you don’t know it now, but there will be many times in your life where you will question God.  You will question His reasons, His faithfulness, His wisdom, perhaps even His very existence.  Like Jacob, you will be angry, scared, alone.  When those times come, don’t be afraid to wrestle with God.  Fight with Him.  Ask the hard questions.  Come at Him with every ounce of force you can muster.  Yell, scream if you have to.  Don’t be afraid of Him.  He welcomes and delights in the audacity of your fortitude.  But whatever you do, son, don’t let Him go.  Hold tight with all of your might until He gives you the answers you seek.

God knows your thoughts before you even speak them.  As He did with Jacob, your heavenly Father knows the struggles you will have, the lies you will have told, the pain you have felt, the fears you are building up the courage to face.  He knows your questions, and He has the answers.  He’s big enough to hear your accusations and He’s wise and gentle enough to give you a tender answer.  “Ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking,” and He will give you what you need, for He withholds no good thing from us.

Just like with Daddy, be bold enough to wrestle with a God who can’t be beaten.  Bond with him in that secret manly ritual of love and intimacy.  And refuse to let go until you receive your blessing.

What I Learned on My Facebook Vacation

I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a full-blown Facebook addict.  (Hi, my name is Ariaun…)  I’m a people person who loves to write and who spends most of her time with two young children.  It’s the perfect storm for a social media addiction, and FB is my drug of choice.  I enjoy almost everything about it. (Except maybe cat videos.  I could live out the rest of my days without seeing another cat video and still die happy.)

But for quite a while now I’ve felt a nagging pull to take a break.  Like a good addict is prone to do, though, I’ve always managed to talk myself out of it.  “But this is how I connect with people!”  “I’ll miss something important!”  “I don’t really let it take up that much of my time.” This past December the desire to take a hiatus from FB became rather overwhelming.  So on Jan.1 I pulled the plug for a month on my biggest vice.

It’s now the middle of February.  Looking back, I have to say that removing myself from FB was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time.  And I learned a few things, to boot.  Would you like to discover my confessions and insights?  Forge ahead, dear reader, and let’s discuss.

  • As a FB addict, I checked my notifications first thing every morning, before I even got out of bed.  
    Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this.  It’s a nice, quiet way to stimulate my brain as I try to wake up.  It’s kind of like my pre-coffee pick-me-up.  I don’t remember how I did life before smartphones, do you?  Well, without my FB app, I had to find a different way to wake my brain up every morning.  I started out by reading news headlines, but after a couple of days I just couldn’t stomach it.  So I decided to try waking up the old fashioned way: I got myself out of bed.  I went to my living room, turned on a lamp, picked up a book, and started reading.  Visualize it with me for a moment.

I love reading books, and my favorite time to read is first thing in the morning.  But too often I find that the mindless perusing of social media easily draws me away from quality literature. (Plus, it’s challenging to hold a book in one hand and a coffee mug in the other.  You Third World people wouldn’t understand.)  I wanted to change that habit in January, so every morning, instead of surfing on my phone, I picked up a book (this one happened to be Heartfelt Discipline by Clay Clarkson), and I sat down with my coffee to read.  This book, along with a couple of others, has drastically changed my parenting philosophy, (which is a conversation for another time), and I’m not sure when I would have taken the time to read it without my FB break.  I discovered a sense of freedom in not feeling pulled to my newsfeed every morning.  Now when I wake up I (usually) start my day with a book or with scripture reading.  I could be wrong, but I suspect it’ll make me smarter than starting my day taking a quiz to find out what my left index finger says about my personality.

  • Turns out I actually DO have time to do those things I don’t have time to do.
    This one is harsh.  I have a laundry list of 5-10-minute tasks that, up until January, I just could not find the time to do.  Some of them have literally been on my list for years.  They weren’t difficult tasks; they were just…what’s the word…boring.  And so when given the choice between taping the cover back onto my son’s LEGO Star Wars Character Encyclopedia or spending five minutes seeing if anyone left a comment on my status update, the latter usually won.  Okay, fine, the latter always won.  Take away the quick ride on the ego trip, though, and all of a sudden, the small tasks become a manageable “thing” that can easily be dealt with.  And doyouknowwhat?  Knocking things off my to-do list gave me even greater satisfaction than thumbs-ups on my status updates!  Who knew!
  • Playing with my kids and having face-to-face conversations is more fun than debating issues on FB.
    Well, I didn’t really learn this, I already knew it.  But I liked having BIG conversations with people on FB, and this was what I thought I would miss most of all.  The unexpected truth is, I didn’t miss it.  Not even a little bit.  Intentionally disengaging from virtual conversations freed me up to spend more time in real, live conversations, with visible body language and everything.  I enjoyed not feeling compelled to share my opinions.  With this newfound discovery I’m (slowly) learning to be much more cautious about what I choose to talk about on social media.  I’m also finding myself less interested in engaging in other people’s controversial conversations online.  Not because I don’t enjoy the discussions; I do!  But because the amount of time required to clearly express one’s thoughts in writing without the benefit body language is one of the most difficult, time-consuming things about social media.  And I realized that it’s often more stressful than fun.  Ain’t nobody got time.

While my husband and I thoroughly enjoy having open-minded discussions with people about social issues around the dinner table, I plan to now be more careful about engaging in those same conversations virtually.  I was reminded that my time in this season of life is better spent loving on my friends and family.  I still enjoy being an active listener on FB, but I have set a goal now to be less of a talker.  To wag more and bark less, if you will.

  •  I don’t like my kids seeing me on my phone.
    Most of my FB interactions happen on my phone more than any other electronic device I own, and I suspect the same goes for most people.  And I don’t know about you, but when I’m out in public, I can’t help but notice (judge) how often people are on their phones.  In restaurants, at the grocery store, at the park, in traffic…everyone has their heads in their phones.  What I realized about myself was that, though I try to be diligent about putting my phone away when I’m around people, my children still see me on my phone at home quite often.  Whether it’s FB, Pinterest, a news article, or a text message, my face is in my phone more often than I’d like to admit.  Consequently, I’m indirectly teaching my kids that this is an okay thing.

Perhaps I shouldn’t characterize being on one’s phone for a considerable amount of time as being inherently good or bad.  But for me, I can say with absolute certainty that it’s not how I want to be remembered.  I don’t want my children or my husband to remember me as being distracted by my phone all the time.  I  don’t want them to remember that I looked down at my phone more than I looked them in the eyes.  I don’t want them to remember me as having always focused on someone else’s conversation.  I don’t want to grow old and discover that I missed most of what was happening in my life because I couldn’t stop watching what was happening in other people’s lives.  My point is, I only have a few short years to make lasting memories with my children.  I want to be careful and deliberate in the way I craft those memories.  Being on my phone all the livelong day doesn’t fit well into that plan.  My break from FB sealed that truth for me even more.

Yes, smartphones and social media are probably here to stay.  And even with the things I learned from my Facebook “vacation,” I’m still a huge fan and I probably always will be.  I love engaging with my wide variety of friends far too much to kiss it goodbye forever.  But taking a break from FB’s constant beckoning gave me a renewed perspective on how to set boundaries for myself.  It helped me to be mindful of what I most value in my everyday life.  I honestly thought I would hate every minute of my month off, and I’ll be honest, Inauguration Day was HARD, I tell you.  But overall, it was not only an experience I truly delighted in, but it’s one I now plan make at least a yearly habit.

How about you?  Do you set boundaries for yourself for social media?  Do you take intentional breaks regularly?  If so, what perspectives have you learned?  I’d love for you to share your thoughts with me!

Homeschooling the Loveday Way: A Peek Inside

‘Tis the season for back-to-school.  Media articles, Facebook links, news segments, blog posts, how-tos, printable resources, and generally all things August/Septembery fill our news feeds and capture our attention with ways to make the start of the school year richer and easier.  As a homeschool mom, the desire to see how other people manage a school day that generally has very few standardized rules always leads me to the Information Superhighway.  It’s a joy to be able to take a few sneak peeks into other family’s lives without having to leave the house or put on makeup.  This isn’t a homeschooling blog per se, but since it’s a blog about my life (and since I have a lot of things on my to-do list that I don’t want to do right now), I thought I would take the time to offer a brief glimpse into our homeschool world.  Also, I don’t like to feel left out, and since everyone else is doin’ it…

We are part-time homeschoolers, attending a co-op three days per week and schooling at home the other two (or other four, as some may see it).  My daughter Natalie is in Kindergarten and my son Aiden in 2nd grade, so this is my third year homeschooling and my first year officially homeschooling two.  Tuesday we had a particularly great day at home, so I thought I would use that as my model.  That way you can think I’m really awesome at this homeschooling thing.  If I were to blog about Thursday, I wouldn’t be able to paint as lovely a picture, and the way I see it, I owe you high quality, so we’ll just pretend every day is just like Tuesday, K?

SONY DSCFirst, I’ll give you a tour of our space.  Our most gracious and glorious heavenly IKEA shelves (and a bookshelf from Jo-Ann’s) contain most of our “educational” toys.  Board games, art supplies, science kit materials, puzzles, instruments, playing cards, manipulatives, building toys, a balance, a globe, an abacus, a cash register, and the arc du triomphe: a CD player.  With headphones.  Headphones are key to homeschool mom sanity.  Sometimes I even let the kids use them.  😉

SONY DSCI’m a huge fan of natural lighting, and our homeschool room has TONS of windows.  Nine, to be exact.  We keep our desks next to the windows to take advantage of all the beautiful sunlight (if you look carefully, you can see the morning sun coming up over the trees.  Glorious).  To the right of the desks is an easel I use to write down the kids’ assignments and goals for the day, and to the left is our art gallery.  Nails. Wire. Clothespins.  Nothing fancy, but it works SO WELL.  On top of the tables is a roll of paper, crayons, a pencil sharpener, and a tin of erasers.  Hanging off the sides of the tables are little tin buckets containing pencils, markers, colored pencils, paint brushes, scissors, hole punches and glue sticks.

SONY DSCThis wall has all kinds of visuals on it, which change according to our monthly needs.  In the center is this most fabulous interactive world map!  I bought it for my son for Christmas one year, and we have just loved it!  Above the map is an Eric Carle canvas of the alphabet, which I also think absolutely rocks.  Other things currently include a sight words chart (which is ugly, but it works for now), a glass frame with fancy paper in it that I use to display our monthly Bible verse (I just write on the frame with a dry erase marker), a poster of the Presidents, a poster of our solar system, and a motivational system (read: my bribery system…because I believe in bribery.  Getting kids to put their clothes on and brush their teeth in the morning should be an Olympic event, so the promise of ice cream in exchange for 25 days of being ready to start school on time has been a game-changer in my house.  Judge not lest).  In the bottom right is a Slugs & Bugs poster of Psalm 139.  On the floor is a basket of wooden blocks and a toy piano.  The piano gets a LOT of use.  They’ve learned how to play a few songs on it, so now they’re challenging themselves to see how badly they can play them off key.  It’s great fun.


Here’s the room in its entirety.  Note that we also have a desk with a desktop computer, a United States rug and a couch for use as a trampoline a soft place to relax.


Just outside the homeschool room, we have this world map from IKEA hanging on a large wall.  We use this map all. of. the. time.  It’s probably the focal point of our house, and whenever we have visitors, everyone flocks around it and shares their tales of where they’ve been or where they’re headed.  I adore this map.  Best $150 we’ve ever spent.  Add a Nerf gun and some darts and you have one incredibly cool geography lesson.


Now for our day.  We wake up in the morning and the kids get ready while I (usually) fix a hearty breakfast.  We try our best to eat healthy meals as much as possible, so breakfast at our house usually consists of whole milk yogurt parfaits with nutty granola and blueberries, bacon, sausage, smoothies, homemade biscuits and pancakes, or toast with almond butter and jelly, along with fruit and fresh juice.  Personally, I eat a lot of eggs, buy my husband and kids get sick of them fairly easily, so it’s hit and miss with them.  While I fix breakfast the kids get dressed and make their beds.  Or they make X-wings out of Legos.


I bought these adorable oversized wooden clothespins at a craft store for $1.00 each, and I use them to display the kids’ weekly spelling words.  I keep them on the dining room table so they can look at them whenever they’re eating.  Since they eat 52 gazillion times per day, they get a lot of exposure to their words without me having to nag them about studying.  It’s brilliant, if I do say so myself.SONY DSCDuring breakfast and morning snack, we do a devotional and Bible story reading, respectively.  Sally Lloyd-Jones has the most beautiful devotional for little ones called Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing.  Lemme tell ya, it makes my heart sing for sure.  So much joy and grace and truth in these small, bite-size passages.  An excellent way to start our morning.  The Bible we use is Egermeier’s Bible Story Book.  What I love about this Bible is that it offers so much more than the basics of common children’s Bible stories.  There’s a lot of detail in each passage, but they’re cautious about making sure their words and pictures are sensitive to little eyes and ears (for example, David’s battle with Goliath leaves out the part where David cut off Goliath’s head).  We also have The Jesus Storybook Bible, which is my absolute favorite children’s Bible in the history of ever, but the kids also read that one at their co-op, so we’ve taken a break from it at home for now.

After breakfast and clean-up, we get our minds ready to learn by exercising.  Tuesday was an absolutely gorgeous August day, so we dashed outside to…

SONY DSCclimb on the monkey bars…

jump rope…

and run relays.

We mix up the exercise time weekly.  Sometimes we ride bicycles, sometimes we find workout videos on YouTube if it’s raining, or sometimes we just find silly ways to move our bodies and dance.  An exercise trampoline is on my wish list to have for indoor movement during the day.  The need to move is especially key for my very energetic 7-year-old boy.  I’m a firm believer in the fact that movement stimulates the brain, so we try to always get our blood pumping before (and during) our lessons if we can.


SONY DSCSpeaking of lessons, we head inside to get our book work done after exercising while our minds are fresh and rested.  We spend about 30 minutes doing math, handwriting and phonics, and then we get up and move around again.  We try to do as little sitting as possible, and we break it up into manageable segments.

SONY DSC Or we just lie on the floor.

SONY DSCFood is essential to learning in this household.  Did I mention that my kids eat 52 gazillion times per day?  Rather than fight the battle all day long, I put a simple snack and water bottles on the table for them to munch on while they work; in this case, popcorn and pistachios.  This helps prevent distraction and procrastination by keeping the “But I’m huuuuuungry!”‘s at bay.


Aiden has a book he uses at home called Challenging Word Problems.  They really are quite challenging for his grade level, so we tackle them in small bites and for some reason, writing the problems on the dry erase board makes them seem less intimidating than reading them from the book.  It also helps to change the words around to appeal to his interests.  No one cares how many books Sam read on Saturday and Sunday, but figuring out how many Storm Troopers Luke Skywalker fought on Saturday and Sunday is a challenge worth taking on.


Writing practice is much more fun with paint and Q-tips!

SONY DSCSONY DSCAfter we’ve been doing book work for a while, we stop and play a game.  Natalie’s math book is especially easy for her right now, so rather than give her a more challenging workbook to do, we play math games instead.  On this particular day, we played a math game with playing cards.  Natalie and I played Addition War while Aiden and I had a slightly more complicated challenge.  We had to take four cards, figure out how to combine them to get the two highest double-digit numbers, then add them together.  Whoever got closest to 100 got all eight cards.  They both beat me almost every time.

SONY DSCBy the time we finish this, it’s time for me to fix lunch, so I give the kids a challenging activity to work on with their hands while I’m in the kitchen.  This week they had Lego challenges.  On this day, they had to make a scene out of Legos that told a story.  Natalie had a difficult time with this, so she just made a box.  Aiden, however, reeeeeeally got into it and made a giant Star Wars battle, complete with AT-ATs, X-wings and tie-fighters.  He was enjoying himself so much, I had a hard time getting him to come eat lunch!

IMG_7483STEM Challenge: Who can build the tallest cup tower?

When we’re not doing Lego challenges we’re either doing art activities (I love artfulparent.com.  She has amazing self-directed art projects that are both stimulating and easy to throw together), STEM challenges, or creative writing work.  They (usually) love these tasks to keep their hands and brains busy while I’m unavailable to help them.  Aiden’s not a big fan of writing, so he doesn’t love the creative writing, but if I give him a Star Wars or Minecraft theme, he’s more willing to go with it.  This is a pretty fun journal for boys, too.

IMG_7528After lunch the kids go outside to play (or inside if the weather is uncooperative) while I clean up lunch and throw laundry in the dryer.  Then we read books and study science.  While I’m reading, the kids are either cuddled up next to me on the couch (as in the above picture), or they’re on the floor playing with manipulatives, such as Tinker Toys, Magna-Tiles, or a sensory box.  When we do science, I either incorporate a science experiment, book, video and/or art activity to go along with whatever we’re learning.  On Tuesday we were studying the Arctic, so we watched a video of the aurora borealis.  I was so excited to show them the video, thinking they would be mesmerized, but turns out they were already familiar with it, thanks to Octonauts.  Who says TV can’t be educational?  Totally rained on my parade, but whatever.  Octonauts didn’t teach them HOW it occurred, so I still had the upper hand in the teaching.  So there.

When science is over, we study a country, work on any classroom projects that are assigned, do individual reading, and/or call it a day and go play.  Our day lasts generally from 9:00-2:30ish, depending on how much extra-curricular work is required for their co-op.  The afternoon also offers us activities that we consider to be learning experiences, such as soccer practice, helping cook dinner, doing chores, and having read-aloud time with chapter books.  As most homeschoolers know, everything is a learning experience.

It’s taken us some time (two full years to be exact) to figure out our daily rhythm on our homeschool days, but this seems to be working well for us.  It’s not without struggles, but I don’t expect perfection.  There are things I’d rather be doing than school work, too, to be honest.  But such is life.  As a rule, however, our days are flowing smoothly and we’re enjoying ourselves.  Hands-on learning that’s playful and fun is important to me.  I’m a big believer in the idea that anything can be fun if you put in a little extra effort, and the more fun it is, the more the learning sticks.  We’re so thankful to be able to have the opportunity to do school this way.

What are some of your favorite techniques for making learning fun and your homeschool days flow smoothly?  I’d love for you to share them with me!  After all, we’re all learning!